German Linke rebel walks out to form new left-wing populist party

Olaf Scholz’s federal government described by Sahra Wagenknech as ‘the worst in our history’

For years the only item on the agenda of Germany’s post-communist Linke (Left) party was the split. After years of feuding the party’s most popular politician, Sahra Wagenknecht, finally made good on a long-running threat and walked out on Monday. Taking nine other Linke Bundestag MPs with her, Dr Wagenknecht plans to create a new party of “common sense and justice” by next year’s EU elections. Her hope: to peel away votes not just from the Linke but also the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

“Things can’t go on as they are otherwise we probably won’t recognise our country in 10 years,” said Wagenknecht. “People are unsettled and don’t know who to vote for or, in anger and doubt, vote for the far-right.”

Wagenknecht has attributed the rise in support for the far-right in part to Linke’s preoccupation with an activist agenda of gender, climate and colonisation issues that has seen support slump to just 6 per cent – and allowed the AfD steal its social justice mantle.

Presenting her new agenda for the working and middle classes, pensioners and unions, Wagenknecht said a priority was to tackle “unregulated migration”, which she said “creates problems in schools and, above all, in poorer areas”.


Criticising Olaf Scholz’s federal government as “the worst in our history”, she promised to depart from “blind, haphazard eco-activism that makes people’s lives more expensive but is of no use to the climate”.

The Russophile politician, who began her political career as a hard-left Stalinist, has promised to prioritise pacifism over “finger-wagging foreign policy” in Berlin and to tackle the “pressure to conform” that she sees in German public debates. “Anyone who digresses from the dominant opinion is quickly defamed and stigmatised,” said Wagenknecht, “but that is unworthy of a democracy.”

Asked about her views on the spiralling Middle East conflict, Wagenknecht denounced the Israeli bombardments of Gaza and described the Palestinian enclave as an “open-air prison for many years”.

Linke politician Dietmar Bartsch, a one-time parliamentary party leader alongside Wagenknecht, described her remark – and her departure on Monday – as “irresponsible and unacceptable”.

“Our parliamentary party will decide in a sovereign way what is to happen now,” he said.

Other Linke politicians predicted a “one-woman ego show” with a ring of déjà vu.

Raised in eastern Germany, the 54-year-old Wagenknecht is married to Oskar Lafontaine, a former Social Democrat (SPD) finance minister who walked out of his job – and his party – in 1999 to help set up what eventually became Die Linke (The Left) in 2007.

Some 16 years on the Wagenknecht walkout poses an existential blow to the Linke as Bundestag rules mean its parliamentary party status is endangered, and with it various speaking and financial privileges.

After launching in time for next June’s EU elections, Wagenknecht’s party hopes to field candidates for next autumn’s state elections in three eastern states where the AfD enjoys over 30 per cent support.

Monday’s announcement comes as Germany, facing its second record immigration wave in eight years, has begun to toughen up its approach to asylum seekers.

Scholz, midway through his first term as chancellor, has seen his SPD slump 10 points on its winning 2021 election result. Amid growing pressure from the opposition, he has infuriated his Green coalition allies with new proposals due this week to crack down on irregular migration.

“We have to finally start deporting en masse those who have no right to be in Germany,” he told Der Spiegel magazine. “Whoever has no prospect of staying or no reason for protection has to go back.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin